Sunday, June 23, 2013

Good Shepherd Times Three

Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Moorhead, MN
60th Anniversary and Farewell for Pr. Dan Megorden
June 23, 2013
Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 10:1-16


This morning the spotlight in our scripture readings shines on the Good Shepherd times three—the Good Shepherd who is Jesus our Lord….the Good Shepherd community gathered here on your 60th anniversary…and one more good shepherd, our faithful pastor Dan Megorden for whose ministry here over  the past 11 years we also give thanks.


So I’m thinking of this sermon as something of a three-layer salad or a three-ingredient hotdish, with each layer and each ingredient hopefully enriching all the others, as happens at potlucks and other feasts.


“I am the good shepherd, “ Jesus declares in our gospel reading from John 10.   I am a shepherd you can count on, a shepherd who gathers people into community, a shepherd who calls and equips under-shepherds to share in my work.


What does this mean, to belong to such a Good Shepherd?


It means, first that we have a Good Shepherd who knows us better than we know ourselves….a Good Shepherd who reads us like a book—and who even supplies the ending to this book of our lives.


We have a Good Shepherd who knows us forward and backward, inside and outside.    “I know my own and my own know me,” says Jesus.    The sheep follow this Shepherd “because they know his voice.”


 Both my wife and I grew up on farms in southern Minnesota--farms with sheep on them—not metaphorical sheep, but real live sheep--who are, by the way, not God’s smartest creatures!


All it took for my farmer-father was a couple hand-fuls of corn, tossed into the bottom of a steel pail.  All it took was to shake that corn, and softly call ”Sheep!”   That’s all it took to bring the Wohlrabe sheep a’ running. 


My mother-in-law for many winters arose at 3 a.m., heated up some milk replacer on the kitchen stove, donned her snowmobile suit to trek out across the yard from the farmhouse to the barn.  All she had to do was just touch the handle on the barn door to cause a whole flock of sheep to start bleating in the February darkness.   My mother-in-law knew her own and they knew her….and she called them by name:  Huey, Duey and Louie….Midnight, Blackie and Spot…


We have a Good Shepherd who knows us, warts and all, and nevertheless loves us unconditionally.


We have a Good Shepherd whose knowing of us fashions us into his beloved community.   In his wonderful new book, The Relational Pastor,  Andrew Root of Luther Seminary reminds us that that we are who we are only through the relationships that define us—our relationships with God and God’s beloved people.


This congregation, Good Shepherd, has for sixty years been such a flock where there’s room for everyone, a circle of care for one another.  


Imagine:  in this crazy, mixed up world filled with people who spend way too many of their waking hours walking around staring at handheld digital devices….there are places like Good Shepherd where we can still look each other in the face, meet one another’s eyes, know and be known by others, faults and all, beloved nonetheless.


And here in this Good Shepherd place…..there has been a whole succession of under-shepherds, like Pastor Dan.   Since arriving in Moorhead ten years ago, I’ve come to know Dan as a keen observer of persons.  Pastor Dan gets a kick out of knowing you and figuring you out and discovering what makes you tick.


That care and attention to real live persons has been a gift, especially in these last four years as our church body moved moved through some hard discussions about human sexuality….I have admired how good shepherd Dan helped keep this flock together, listening and speaking to one another, knowing and being known.


What does it mean to have a Good Shepherd?   In the second place, it means that there is Someone who is hands-on with us, who rolls up his sleeves and rescues us when we need rescuing, sets us free when we’re stuck.


As a young lad growing up on our family farm, one of my summer jobs was to walk the fenceline that enclosed our pasture, looking for sheep that had gotten their heads stuck in the wire mesh as they tried to stretch their necks toward the greener grass on the other side.


Jesus, our Good Shepherd specializes in stuck sheep.   Jesus does not leave us to our own devices when we’ve messed up.   Jesus refuses to let us stay stuck in sin, captive to death, paralyzed by the power of the devil.   Jesus our Good Shepherd doesn’t let us live in denial.   He wakes us up, goes after us, uses his shepherd’s crook to rescue us, his shepherd’s staff to goose us back onto his path.


The same sort of thing happens in Jesus-communities like this one.    A congregation at its best is a community of radical honesty and deep healing.   We don’t just accept one another and sing another round of “Kumbaya” together.    We call one another to account, to dive deeper, to break out of our cozy cocoons, and to serve God’s mission of redeeming and blessing the whole world in Jesus Christ.    That’s the kind of congregation you here at Good Shepherd have been since 1953.


In the same vein we call pastors, under-shepherds to—among other things—set us straight, call us out, help us get unstuck, so that we can follow our Shepherd wherever he is leading us.


During Pastor Dan’s tenure here at Good Shepherd, your congregation moved out in a daring, bold, risk-taking way….when you relocated your whole mission center from your old location near Eventide out to this growing edge of Moorhead.    Pastor Dan, and a host of servant-leaders from among you, looked reality square in the face and pushed you beyond your comfort zone to make this new campus a reality.


A good under-shepherd like Dan knows when the sheep need comfort and when they need a loving nudge with the rod and the staff that are the shepherd’s tools.


What does it mean to have a  Good Shepherd?  Third and finally, it means having Someone whose whole purpose, whose very being, is to open up a fresh future for the flock….to lead the flock to a wide and liberating place, a place of flourishing.


Hanging around sheep when I was a kid, I noticed how they will follow you just about everywhere….EXCEPT through small doorways, narrow valleys, or other claustrophobic places.     There is a reason why the psalmist, exulting in God’s rescuing activity, speaks of being set “in a broad place.” (Psalm 31:8)


Jesus our Good Shepherd through his life, death and resurrection opens up just such a wide and liberating life for us all.  “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture,” Jesus promises.  Whereas sheep-stealers and other thieves come “only to steal and kill and destroy.”  Jesus the Good Shepherd comes “that (we) may have life, and have it abundantly,” life free and wide and open to God’s unfolding future!


For sixty years Good Shepherd Church has grown into being a place, a community, where persons like us can regularly try on our better selves.     We come here to get re-oriented, re-centered, and sent out again with gifts galore to share with our neighbors and care for this good earth.


I don’t know if Pastor Dan was a Boy Scout when he was young….but he certainly acts like someone who follows the scout’s priority to “leave your campsite better than you found it.”  


Dan, as you conclude your ministry here at Good Shepherd, you have more than done your part to leave this congregation better than you found it—and that isn’t just a credit to you and your flock, but it reflects God’s fierce determination (as it says in our lesson from Ephesians) that you “comprehend…what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and…know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”


So we say thanks be to God for Jesus our Good Shepherd….for this congregation named after our Good Shepherd….and for this good under-shepherd, Pastor Dan Megorden.


And now we send you forth, Dan and Mary, to a barren, hot, dry, desert place called Arizona….a brutal environment where there are no muskie-fishing lakes, where you could easily get beaned by careening golf balls, where people have to explain who Ole and Lena are—we send you to a harsh locale that knows not snow-blowers during blizzards or sump pumps during spring floods.


It will be a hard and difficult life, my dear friends—so make the best of it! 


Be of good cheer.  You travel not alone!   Your Good Shepherd goes before you and with you.


In the name of Jesus.


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